My students usually have trouble grasping Chalcedonian Christology that Jesus, God the Son, lives as one person in two natures, simultaneously. I’ve thought about this repeatedly enough that the traditional formulation feels familiar to me, but students hearing it for the first time are confounded. Maybe I should be confounded more myself, and allow the mystery to creep in more heavily when I consider the Incarnation. I like to add that it’s appropriate when we think about Jesus and the deep things of God that we feel a bit dizzy.
But we still need to try and make sense of it however we may grasp at these deep things with our feeble minds. Often I find that the hardest thing is not in thinking that Jesus is eternally God the Son, or that he is a true human being, but that he lives a dual life by possessing both natures and living through them at the same time (the hypostatic union). The analogy I explain to them from our life experience is focused on understanding the simultaneity of the Incarnation for God the Son.
Compare Jesus’ two natures, divine and human, to two languages, thinking of a language as an analogy for a nature, a mode of being, the capacities one has for existence as a natural kind. Consider that Joe, a native English speaker, is one person with one language (because he’s an American and never saw the need to learn another language). In terms of participating in communication reality with the exchange of meaning and self-expression to other persons with minds, Joe has (only) one mode of being by virtue of his English language capacity.
Joe took a trip to Moscow and met the woman he would like to marry, Olga. The problem with their relationship is that Olga knows only Russian, and Joe knows only English. They don’t have a lot to say to each other. Such is Joe’s interest in Olga that he has begun learning her language, fervently. After several weeks of hard study, Joe has extended himself beyond his English language mode to add a second mode of communicative participation, now in Russian. Joe has a working Russian vocabulary of about 345 words when he next visits Moscow and meets Olga again. They now have a little bit to say to each other in Russian.
While fully retaining his capacity for expression and participation in the English language, Joe has gained a limited capacity for expression and participation in the Russian language. Sadly, he cannot do everything in Russian that he is able to do in English, and he must work within those constraints of his second language. Sometimes he astonishes himself at how he can read and send text messages on his phone in English while simultaneously he struggles to make himself understood in Russian—he must relate to people in restaurants and on the street as if he were a child, knowing very little (as compared to what he knows and can do in English). Olga’s friends tell Russian jokes, but these usually turn into an occasion to laugh at Joe, because he’s not able to get the jokes with his limited Russian capacity. Joe’s not good at language, so he muddles along within his limitations for the sake of making a relationship with Olga. No Russian, no relationship that may lead (hopefully) to marriage.
Joe’s experience is a little like Jesus, living as one person in two natures simultaneously. As God the Word, the eternal Son and second person of the Trinity lives unlimited in his omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, timelessness, etc. This is his life according to his divine nature. As the Son of God he also lives simultaneously in his recently acquired life as a creature under the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This is his life by which he suffers the multitude of limitations on his personal self-expression according to human physicality, temporality, created will and mind, etc. Simultaneously. And, because the Incarnation involves unchanging deity and humanity, Jesus will never develop his humanity to the point of parity with his deity (unlike Joe, who may, with Olga’s help, grow in his Russian capacity to match his English abilities or exceed them).
Thus did Jesus remain fully God and fully exercised his divine powers while (or, by means of which?) he took up life as fully man to suffer our hell and attain worthiness as a man under God for our sakes. And he remains one person in two natures for our sakes, so we will be able to relate to him and the triune God through his visible, tangible humanity. Forever. Are we dizzy yet?